While Portland may be lacking in traditional steakhouses, it’s more than overflowing with great steaks. I may never forgive my parents for raising me vegetarian, but I will always remember the glistening eyes of steakivores as they tried to communicate the wonders of steak to my uncomprehending ears. And because this is Portland, that mildly hypnotized look that made me abandon my childhood values can be had in many different forms. Here's where to get the best steaks in Portland.
Ox is worth waiting for, even if the line is out the door. Its fancy wood-fired grill has grooves designed to catch steak drippings, and the grillmasters infuse the drippings with celery, onion, and lemon before splashing them back onto the steak. For a bite of something as tender as Bambi, try the skirt steak, served sliced to perfection with chimichurri on the side. Ox serves family-style fare, which is good, because the top cut, the 36oz rib eye, could feed a family.
Weighing a kilo (2.2lbs), Nostrana’s huge chunk of St. Helens beef is modeled after Italy's most famous steak, Bistecca alla Fiorentina. It's 2in thick and comes full of juices. Six-time James Beard finalist Cathy Whims also drizzles extra virgin olive oil on top. Hewing through this beast reveals a variety of cooking temperatures, with wood-smoked caramelized edges and near-rare portions in the center.
You don't have to have deep pockets to enjoy these deep pockets of rendered fat. Portland's most beloved steakhouse butchers all of its steaks the day they are served, and sells top-quality steaks in the $20 range, including uncommon but flavorsome butcher’s cuts. Going all out? The cold-smoked Brandt Beef ribeye thrives on the charcoal grill, where the tissue between muscles becomes as smooth as butter.
Opened in 2013 by Grain & Gristle's Alex Ganum, Ben Meyer, and Marcus Hoover, Old Salt cuts its steaks in-house from whole-carcass beef that has been dry-aged for 14 days. From there, things get ludicrous: take, for example, the porterhouse that's been dry-aged for 65 days. Finished with reserve olive oil and Jacobsen salt, the 100% grain-free, pasture-raised beef has robust meatiness. Plus, as at Laurelhurst, you can take steaks home from the well-priced deli counter.
Who doesn't love bananas Foster flambéed tableside? El Gaucho exclusively serves dry-aged, Niman Ranch-certified Angus beef rubbed with its signature seasonings. And to get a deeply caramelized sear, it cooks some of its steaks in piles of lamb fat. The filet mignon is very close to perfect.
In addition to its swanky dining room in The Nines, Urban Farmer serves swanky, if pricy, steak tastings. You can compare the differences between grass-fed, corn-fed, dry-aged, and wagyu steaks -- all butchered in-house -- for around $100. If you haven't done it before, it's a revelation. And don't skip this absurdly cheesy monstrosity: the twice-baked fingerling potato tart.
The steak isn't $3.99 at Acrop anymore, but you still don't have to spend a lot of money to eat great steak in Portland. The strip club that made the steak-and-strippers combination famous is worth visiting for the steak alone (yeah, this is a service announcement: we're saying that to help you convince your special someone). Depending on the day, the $7 sirloin special may feature beef from the owner's own ranch, and the 8oz sirloin gets the job done with garlic bread, salad, and your choice of baked potato or fries. Oh, and you eat them at the rack with your choice of 65 beers. God bless you, Portland.
Now that the Glendoveer location has reopened, it's difficult to choose the better location: Glendoveer's airy, country-club vibe, with outdoor seating by the golf course, or the old-school leather booths and tuxedo-wearing waitstaff of West Burnside. After 70 years in business, you acquire these kinds of problems. RingSide stands out for its in-house dry-aging program, which ensures that every steak has been aged for at least 28 days. Order a bone-in steak to taste how that marrow flavor seeped into the meat.
There's a reason why it's an international franchise: for $50, you can get all the steak you can eat delivered on metal spikes by knife-wielding men dressed in traditional Brazilian gaucho garb. The game plan: visit the salad bar that's included in the price only once; eat two, and only two, of the famous house-made cheese balls; and go nuts on the pork sausages, lamb chops, parmesan-crusted pork medallions, etc. But remember, it's all about the picanha, a meaty Brazilian rump cut with a huge fat cap.
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Mattie John Bamman is a culinary/travel author and freelance writer focused on the Pacific Northwest, Italy, and the Balkans. Wine, wilderness, and words brought him to Portland, OR, where he regularly contributes to Northwest Travel Magazine and serves as editor of the Big Weekend Calendars Portland events calendar. Follow him @ravenoustravelr.